Hi! My name is Benjamin Matthews. Six months ago, I joined the SCUBA family. I took an open water course at a local shop, and after two weekends of classwork and dives, was certified. Needless to say, I was ecstatic; I couldn’t wait to find a diving buddy, and start logging dives. I felt that I knew everything I needed to be a “great diver” — after all, I was certified! I very quickly learned how wrong I was.
As I started getting dives under my belt, I began to realize that although I had been “certified,” I had not been trained. I had all the head knowledge that I needed; I could recite virtually every procedure in the book, I knew what I was supposed to do and when I was supposed to do it while I was under the water, and I had every acronym and signal down pat. Unfortunately, this knowledge only helped so much since I wasn’t properly trained on how to apply what I had learned during the classroom lessons.
Could my scenario have been avoided? Honestly, yes. Looking back, there are a few pieces of advice that I wish I had known beforehand, so that I ended up not only certified, but trained as well. I’d like to share the advice here, so that others who may be thinking about getting certified don’t end up making the same mistakes that I did.
The instructor, not the company, is the most important part of training.
I have lost count of the number of times that I have read this since my class ended. Every dive blog seems to pass this advice along, and I must agree with it. I fell into the trap of thinking that there was only one “good” certification company, and that the rest were subpar. I’ve since learned that this is not the truth. When it comes down to it, the company only certifies you, it’s the job of their instructors to train you. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if your open water card contains three letters, or four letters—what matters is that you are trained, and know how to dive properly.
If I could rewind the clock, and give myself some advice, I’d tell myself to be patient, look around at all the local shops, and take the time to meet the instructors that would be training me. I would tell myself to “listen to my gut,” and don’t ignore the first impression that the instructors leave. I had heard this advice before, but it wasn’t until after I was certified that I realized the true importance of it.
However, after meeting the instructors at Scuba John's Dive Shop and seeing how they work with their students (and tossing me a free lesson or two as well), I could see first-hand how a good instructor can make a big difference. To those who are going to take their open water course, I can’t stress enough how important it is to find a good instructor who will take the time to work with you, and seek to meet your needs.
During training, the size of the class is important.
When I took my open water certification course, the class was full (if not overflowing). This size lead to large amounts of down time, while the instructor checked off the other students. Unfortunately, it also meant that our skill checkoffs were rushed, and there was no time to loop back and practice skills that we weren’t comfortable with. We were told that to practice any skills we were needing help with, we would need to book a one-on-one session with the instructor, because there wouldn’t be time to review during our training dives.
I would advise those who are planning on taking a course to ask their instructor how big the class sizes are. I would make sure that the class sizes have a hard cap, so that they don’t get too big. You want to make sure that the classes are small enough so that you and your instructor will have plenty of time to answer any questions that arise during the classroom portion, and have extra time in the water to review and practice any skills that need it.
Habits picked up during training stick around.
This advice is bittersweet, because it can go both ways. The good habits that I learned and reinforced during my certification course stuck with me. Unfortunately, the bad habits that I picked up, and didn’t correct, continued to plague me until I started dedicating dive time to correct them.
As an example, during my class, we were required to stay on our knees on the bottom of the pool/lake while the instructor wasn’t working directly with us. To keep us down, we were heavily overweighed (I personally wore 10lbs more than I needed). Because we were carrying excess weight, several members of the class, myself included, got into the bad habit of using our BCDs as “elevators.” When I began diving for real, I found that I would subconsciously be making the same mistake of “riding the inflator” up and down, rather than taking the time to properly weigh myself beforehand.
To those looking to get certified, let me encourage you to search for an instructor and a program that will train you under realistic circumstances. If possible, look for a program that will teach you how to execute skills while being neutrally buoyant, rather than on your knees on the bottom. A good instructor will make sure that you are trained under optimal conditions, so that when you begin diving after you are certified, you already know what the best habits are, and are familiar with the feeling of diving correctly.
In short, to those who are getting ready to take an open water course, don’t fall into the trap of only getting certified, without getting trained. This was a mistake that I made, and I wish I could rewind the clock and do things a little differently. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of finding an instructor who is willing to work with you, and your needs. Your instructor will be an important resource for you, both now and in the future. Remember, if you find yourself struggling at any point during the class, say something to your instructor. They are trained, and will be able to help you fix any issues / difficulties you are having. If you are able to avoid forming bad habits during your course, diving will be much more relaxing and enjoyable. I bid you all the best of luck, and happy diving!